Surprising discovery of a CNRS team: the bees know and understand abstract concepts even combination of both. They can learn to go for the food where there are any two images, and even unknown of them, provided, for example, they are placed one above the other, and that they are different.
The insect brain is able to manufacture and manipulate abstract concepts. It can even use two different concepts to make a decision facing a new situation. This is totally unexpected result that was obtained by the team of Professor Martin Giurfa, the CRCA (Center for Research on Animal Cognition, CNRS / University Toulouse III-Paul Sabatier). This ability, that once thought to be unique of humans and some primates, shows that sophisticated cognitive analyzes are possible in the absence of language and despite a miniaturized neural architecture. This work, published in the journal PNAS, call into question many theories in areas such as animal cognition, human psychology, neuroscience and artificial intelligence.
Human cognition, including mathematics and language capabilities, are based on our ability to manipulate concepts. In everyday life, the concepts that connect separated objects by rules of relationship types “same”, “different”, “more than”, “above”, take a prominent place. For example, the motorist is guided by a complex network of concepts, color coding, arrows, panels … The use of such concepts, which are often believed to be owned by Human and a few primates, could be much more widespread in the animal kingdom.
The one above the other, it is not the one beside the other: the bee knows it
The experiments of the team of Martin Giurfa were on bees, which had already surprised the team by the bee’s ability to recognize human faces and by the existence of a kind of personality.
Researchers have shown that these insects are able to generate and manipulate concepts to reach a food source. For this, they took a group of bees that they have led them to enter an enclosure to collect the sugar solution. In this enclosure, bees met two stimuli, each placed on a wall. Each stimulus was composed of two distinct images , one above the other or one beside the other. Among these pairs of objects was located an opening providing, a reward of sugar water, or a punishment, a drop of quinine. Thus, the bees were rewarded on a concept (eg, “above”) and punished on the other (“beside”). The images varied while maintaining constant relations “above” and “beside” and their respective associations with the reward and punishment. After thirty trials, bees recognized the relationship faultless guiding them to the sugar water.
The bee can handle dual abstract concept
One test consisted of placing the same bees to new images. The only common point with the figures of the training was available, “one above the other” and “one beside other.” Bees, although they have never seen these new images, correctly chose the target according to this order relation abstract.
But that’s not all: during training, the images among which was the reward had always different from each other. To see if the bees had learned the relationship of difference, the researchers were confronted with new stimuli where the images were within the constituent relationship reward (eg, “one above the other”) but who were either different or identical. The bees ignored the stimuli made of identical images, showing that most of the concepts “above / below” and “next”, they simultaneously manipulated the concept of “difference” to make their decision.
This study challenges the idea that mammals brain (including ours), the largest in size, are required to develop a conceptual knowledge. It also demonstrates that concept formation is possible in the absence of language. From a philosophical point of view, it brings new elements to the discussion on what would be unique to humans. Currently, the team begins work on Martin Giurfa identification of neural networks responsible for this conceptualization.